An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stand & Deliver - Part 3 of Litterbox Blues

I have been basking in admiration from the coverage in Saturday's Edmonton Journal. While I have mentioned it before, I want to reiterate how noteworthy I am in my local area; of  course, other cats know this but on the off-chance that one of their purrsons might read this, it is best to set my cards straight on the table. I will keep my larger aspirations to myself for the moment and concentrate on some of the e-mails that have resulted from the publicity. Smooshie, for example, wrote:

I am seven-year-old, female tabby -- black and white with a morsel of brown --  and a cute, loving face. In the words of my purrsons, I am (like yourself) attractive. My most significant beauty features are my big ears which are to die for. People melt when they see them! I am well-treated by kind and loving people who dote on my every need. However there is a habit of mine that is making them nervous.

It seems to have started with my homeopathic treatment for feline hyperesthesia syndrome. So here is what happens. When I use my litterbox, all my paws are inside the box (of course); but when I void, the liquid goes outside it causing my purrsons distress. They got me a new, larger litterbox and while that is working, it isn't working all the time. Herself remarked that my adorable rear end seems to be a bit high in the air when I spew forth. Last time I was doing my business, she gently pushed it down a bit and solved the problem -- all the liquid landed in the box. Should I have her accompany me to the box everytime I need to use it, or is there another way to avoid causing them distress?

Dearest Smooshie, how considerate of you to concern yourself with your purrsons' reactions to your new litterbox habit. Before I respond to your query I want to clarify a few points for the benefit of other cats who may be reading this. According to Dr. Karen L. Overall (a veterinary behaviorist and author of "Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals"), feline hyperesthesia syndrome is a fancy term for rolling skin syndrome, neuritis, twitchy cat disease and/or atypical neurodermatitis. Sometimes a skin problem is the cause of it but as often as not, there is no definite cause. It is a periodic affliction, meaning that is doesn't happen all the time. But when it does, cats may roll; bite their tail, flanks, bum or back; and/or have skin that ripples or twitches along their backs. Such a cat in action may vocalize or run while this is happening (as if trying to run away from whatever is causing this). I wish more were known about this syndrome and its causes but it appears to be just another one of those mysteries.

For many cats the occasional such outburst may be remarked on by those privileged enough to observe it, but otherwise left alone. For example, every so often (but really not very often at all) my skin will begin to ripple along my back for no good reason. However for those cats who have more frequent outbursts and/or are distressed by them, a consultation with the veterinarian is in order. In your case, your people have taken you to an holistic veterinarian and you are receiving a homeopathic treatment for it -- a treatment which with prolonged use might result in some back or joint pain.

Obviously the last thing you need in your senior years (and you are, at seven, a senior cat) is joint pain of any kind because it ruins the pleasure in climbing, jumping, running and other actions essential to a cat's repertoire. However I am confident that should such a problem persist, your purrsons will be looking at other treatment options in consultation with your veterinarian. For myself, I would never want to be a vet regardless of all the good they do; their poking and prodding is so unseemly. But I digress. . .

Whatever the cause, it seems that your adorable rump is the problem area.

As you know, most cats will squat in order to void and that keeps the liquids in the box. However I did say MOST and not ALL. Some cats use the litterbox as an opportunity to make their presence known. Many purrsons remark that their cats need to use the litterbox immediately after fresh litter has been put in it. They seem to think that we hold ourselves in until fresh supplies arrive. Well have I got news for them. It's because we need to make a statement! And lacking opposable thumbs and writing materials, we make the best use of what we have.

For such territorial marking, a cat usually sprays by staying relatively upright (tail out of the way, of course) and letting the liquids go where they may. Often these liquids end up against a wall, but in a low-sided litterbox they end up on the floor. I know this because my predecessor, Simon the Pie Man, a distinguished holstein-patterned male, used to do this all the time. My purrson made a high-sided litterbox for him and the problem was solved because he could void against its walls when he was doing his business.

Of course, arthritic cats and those whose backs or flanks are sore may resort to the same method of voiding because it is less painful than doing a squat.

There was the time when Herself went to Japan and had to squat to use a toilet after walking 10 kilometres; she has osteoarthritis. It was not a pretty sight! But the empathic cat slave doesn't have to travel far to experience a similar sensation: any purrson who has been to the gym recently and tried to do squats with sore muscles will know of what I speak. The solution for humans who 'have to go' (notwithstanding the need for more regular exercise at the gym) is the raised toilet seat. The high-sided litterbox is the feline version of this solution.

High-sided litterboxes are not easy to find even in well-equipped pet stores. Some pet catalogues have them. But there is an easier and less expensive solution. Have your purrsons purchase a plastic, storage-type container for your exclusive use. Such containers are available from stores like WalMart, Zellers and The Bay. Size is the key. For example, Simon's special box was a Truly-brand box (from Zellers) with a 112 litre capacity; it did the trick because of its dimensions which are in American (because Herself is too lazy to offer the metric measurements as well): 14" high (without its lid), 23" long and 14" wide.

After purchase, have those who serve you make the following modifications:

1) Recycle the lid; it is of no further use to you.

2) Using a carpet knife or similar tool, cut an opening into one side of the box. Whether this is in the middle of the long side or the short side depends on how you, Smooshie, use the box. It seems that your purrsons are quite observant of your habits and would know which (if any) side you prefurr. The opening needs to be big enough for you to get in and out of comfortably and still have enough of a bottom rim to keep the litter inside. For example, if the box is 14" high (without the lid), start the opening in the middle of one side of the box, at 6" from the bottom and then cut out a U-shaped hole 8" long and 8" wide. That means the box will look like it has a big U in it with three, 8" sides and a completely empty (or open) top.

So the box might up ending like the one on the left (which would have been a lot better if I had a more artistically savvy cat slave. Alas one has to put up with those who are willing to serve, even if some of the skill set is sadly lacking!)
3) Make sure they cover the cut edges with duct or packing tape because these edges are sharp. I don't want you shave your fur off every time you get in the box to use it.

4) BEFORE they put the litter in, they can spray ONLY the bottom with a vegetable spray (such as Pam), and let it dry. This will reduce odour penetration into the plastic, and it can actually make it easier to scoop out litter of the clumping kind. Everytime they completely empty the box, they can repeat this step.

And don't forget, Smooshie --  Inquiring cats will want to know if this works for you. So do keep in touch!

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